the Girl Banker Series | Women In Banking: the Influencers
Every fall, the American Banker, the official publication of the American Bankers Association, releases their list of the Most Powerful Women In Banking. I find this list inspiring as it is a reminder that there are women making a difference every day in this industry. It also made me think about the women who have influenced me at different points in my banking career. My list includes women that stand out to me not only as influential women in banking but influential bankers in general. No “woman” tag needed. This series is dedicated to a variety of women who have been influential to me: all at different times within my career and in different ways, but all in their own special way.
Erica Preston | COO | Chambers Bank
Erica and I met as a fluke, or better yet, by fate. We both were NWA residents with long careers in banking but our paths never crossed until the summer of 2013 when we attended Graduate School of Banking in Boulder, CO. Being the planners that we are, we both had offered to plan the Arkansas State Dinner at GSBC. Upon realizing that we lived in the same corner of the state, we arranged to meet for lunch to plan the dinner and the rest is history. We forged an immediate bond and became the best of friends. Not only were we both boy moms with sons very close in age, but we shared a love for philanthropy, our careers, and shopping.
Erica lives in Bentonville, AR with her husband, Clinton, and son, Carter.
Erica got her start in banking in 1997 as a teller for First Financial Bank, whose branches were later purchased by Simmons First Bank in 2000. After the acquisition by Simmons, she started her climb up the ladder the old-fashioned way. By 2008 she had advanced from teller to Operations Manager and SVP, overseeing 10 Northwest Arkansas branches and supervising accounting and human resources. In 2014, Simmons was in full on growth mode and so was Erica’s career. She was then promoted to Regional Operations Manager/SVP where she oversaw 39 branches in Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas.
In 2015, Erica had an opportunity. She had been at Simmons Bank for 18 years where she had built a career from the ground up and was recognized as a leader. But the opportunity in question would give Erica hands-on decision-making abilities in the everyday workings of a smaller community bank. She could have an immediate impact on the company as a whole and put everything she had learned at a larger, regional bank to use. She took advantage of the opportunity and was named Chief Operating Officer of Chambers Bank, a $750 million community bank in June of 2015.
Erica the Influencer
Erica is one of my very best friends, but she is also a mentor. She is fiercely professional, uber-intelligent and knows how to do her job better than any Chief Operating Officer I have ever met. Her small, petite frame commands a presence even in the largest of rooms and she can put any OWD in their place before they know what hit them. (OWD = Old White Dudes… sorry not sorry, there are a ton of them in the banking industry!). Not only can she put them in their place, but she can do it in an incredibly well-versed, very professional way. I truly think it’s an art form that she has perfected! Erica has served as the chair of the NWA Business Women’s Conference which brings 1400 business women together for a day of leadership, empowerment, and encouragement. She landed on the NWA Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 list in 2015 and on their C-Suite list in 2017.
Our annual jumping pic at GSBC.
She is easily the most loyal friend I have ever known and has my back no matter what. I experienced this trait of hers almost immediately. During our first year of banking school in Colorado, a “gentlemen” made a lewd remark to me. She chased him down and let him have it. I was stunned that someone I had just become friends with would put herself out there like that for me! Needless to say, the “gentleman” didn’t return for his second year of banking school.
I love her wit, passion for Mexican food and ability to carry on a conversation with literally anyone. She is an avid concert attendee and before the night is over, she will be friends with everyone seated or standing around her. Even though we work for competing banks, she continues to offer advice and support to me in everything I do. I’m forever thankful that our paths crossed in 2013 as her influence has helped shape my own career. Not long after I met her, I found myself transitioning from working at a bank in my hometown where I knew everyone to a new bank in a much larger community where my contacts were limited. She didn’t hesitate to get me involved and introduce me to new people. I am always trying to emulate the professionalism she exhibits and hope that I can be half the Girl Banker she is. I have no doubt she has influenced other women in this industry and likely a few men too.
BANK ON IT | “Volunteer for projects and additional responsibility. Speak up and make sure your opinions are heard. Make sure you are the persona that makes your boss’s job easier, not harder. Have high expectations for yourself and those that work for you, but stand up for and stand behind those people. Keep your word and treat others with respect. Your title doesn’t earn you respect, your behavior does.” -Erica Preston
the Girl Banker Series | Women In Banking: the Influencers
Every fall, the American Banker, the official publication of the American Bankers Association, releases their list of the Most Powerful Women In Banking. Seeing this list every year is both empowering and inspiring as it is a reminder that there are women making a difference every day in this industry. After seeing this year’s list, I started thinking about the women who have influenced me the most at different points in my banking career. I didn’t have to think very long to come up with my list as these women stand out to me as not only influential women in banking but influential bankers in general. No “woman” tag needed. This series is dedicated to a variety of women who have been influential to me: all at different times within my career and in different ways, but all in their own special way.
Jenny Stinchcomb | EVP | Sales Manager | Arvest Bank
My grandfather was my first real influence to banking. His 45 year banking career, all with Farmers & Merchants Bank in Prairie Grove, AR, ended with his retirement in 1991 and he later passed away in 1997. While I never had the opportunity to talk shop with him, I had the privilege to work with a number of people during my career that also worked with him. Jenny Stinchcomb was one of those people. Jenny will be retiring after 37 years in January so I find this post very timely. She started her career in banking in 1980, a time when banking jobs didn’t become available often, especially to women. At that time, her family was planning to move to Prairie Grove from Tulsa the following year, but due to a retirement in the bank, Jenny was told that if she wanted the job, she needed to move immediately, and so she did.
Jenny in front of the infamous mural at Farmers & Merchants Bank.
She started filing checks in the bookkeeping department and was only there two weeks before being asked to move to the loan side of the bank to be the bank president’s secretary and issue Certificates of Deposit. At that time, all loan officers, the president included, typed their own loan documents. (Oh how things have changed!) This only consisted of a note the size of a business envelope and a mortgage, given real estate was taken as collateral. Within a matter of days on the loan side, Jenny found herself typing all of the loan documents for all five lenders. Within a few years, the bank had purchased a loan processing machine that improved the process. She also began building loan files at the recommendation of state bank examiners to document on one sheet all the loans each customer had. In June of 1992, Farmers & Merchants Bank was purchased by Arvest and Jenny was given the title as Loan Operations Manager. She stayed in that role until 1995 when she was promoted to Sales/Operations Manager.
Jenny took her job seriously and set the tone for me for what professionalism looked like in the work place. As a junior and senior in high school, I was selected as member of the Prairie Grove Junior Bank Board and immediately started bugging Jenny and her counterpart and HR manager, Judy Carter, about working there upon graduating from high school. I clearly remember the moment Jenny told me to come down and apply for an open teller position. We were in a school bus, arriving back at the high school after our yearly trip to tour the Arvest Operations Center in Lowell, AR. I was so excited to finally have the opportunity to work at the bank that my grandfather did. I worked there through the end of high school and while obtaining my bachelor’s and masters degrees as the University of Arkansas.
Random Fact: Jenny and I met Charlie Gibson on the set of “Good Morning America” in New York City back in 2005.
During that time, Jenny was an advocate for me to be cross trained in multiple areas beyond just the teller line which proved beneficial to me later on in my career. She even went to bat for me to get a raise while I was still in college, arguing that my commute from the U of A back to Prairie Grove every day would be expensive. As a young, easily influenced young woman, that spoke volumes to me and I never forgot it. In 2013, when I received an opportunity to go work for a competitor bank after 12 years at Arvest, Jenny came to my office and in her ever-so professional tone of voice and said, “while I can’t wish you success against our sister banks, I wish you, personally, the most success in your career.”
Thank you, Jenny, for investing in me at a young age and showing me what women in this industry are capable of doing.
BANK ON IT | “Banking is absolutely a great career. It truly gives you an opportunity to interact with people in the community and have an influence on both customers’ and associates’ financial and personal lives. Over the years, I have witnessed the faith and trust that people place in their banker that extends far beyond the money they have in their accounts. My advice would be to accept each opportunity to learn all aspects of banking. In my case, each opportunity opened up another door.”
I have ALWAYS wanted to be a banker. As in, forever. My late grandfather, Wilford H. Thompson, was a Vice President at Farmers & Merchants Bank for 45 years, retiring in 1991, a year before it was purchased by Arvest Bank. As a kid, I was in there all of the time. My mom had worked there as well so the bank and its employees felt like family. My grandpa would bring my twin sister and I blank bank tickets, envelopes and stationery. I had absolutely no clue what they were actually used for but in my pretend world, I was a bad ass banker girl. I played with my fair share of Barbies and Cabbage Patch dolls, don’t get me wrong, but playing banker was my jam.
My grandpa, Wilford Thompson, in his office and signature bolo at Farmers & Merchants Bank in Prairie Grove, Ar.
Fast forward to high school, I had no doubt that I wanted to work in banking. I was all over applying to be on the Arvest Bank Junior Bank Board and started working there as a part time teller toward the end of my senior year at the age of 18. This turned into a 12 year stint at Arvest Bank and a jump start to my career.
As far as college goes, I had no doubt that I was going to be a Razorback at the University of Arkansas. It would enable me to still work at the bank in Prairie Grove and commute back and forth to school. I pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma and later became the Assistant Treasurer, which led to me being the house Treasurer my junior year. This proved to be a great training ground as a loan officer due to the fact that I was in charge for collecting all payments- even those that were past due. Talk about awkward- it’s not easy collecting money from your peers, especially in a sorority house.
During my undergrad college days, Arvest had trained me on the teller line, in customer service, deposit operations and eventually over to the loan side in loan operations. I was set on being a loan officer, which seemed like the ultimate goal and fast track to success in banking. What I didn’t know at the time was how important all of that cross training would be later on in my career.
Before college graduation, my twin sister, Lindsay, was making arrangements to go to graduate school at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX. While we had always been slightly competitive, like most twins are, I didn’t want to be out done. I knew I had a good job lined up after graduation, but sought out the advice of then Market President, Greg Reed in regards to whether or not I should continue on and get my masters. He said it would be a waste of time. I did it anyway. Greg, if you are reading this, you may not have intended to steer me that way, but thank you for doing so! Regardless if that degree has mattered or not in my career, I know I grew academically as a result of it and gained connections that paid off later. Thanks Greg!
Fellow Arvest teammate, Tamra Noe, and myself at the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing during a Junior Bank Board tour.
I continued to work in loan operations and as a loan assistant through graduate school and became a full time consumer, commercial and mortgage lender after graduating. This also happened to be the same year I married my high school sweetheart, Colt, so it’s all a whirl wind looking back at it now. I do know that throughout those early years as a part time employee at Arvest, I continued to voice my intents of becoming a lender to the management of the bank and I am grateful that they created my lending position when I graduated. I say this to point out that it’s important to voice your career goals, regardless of your current position. You just never know where it will take you.
During my 12 years at Arvest I grew a lot professionally and so did my family as Colt and I welcomed our eldest, Brody, into the world in 2010. I learned all sides of lending and most of it was during the economic downturn, which created a better understanding of risk analysis and underwriting. Arvest has an incredible internal training program and what I learned there has served me well. Looking back at the first leg of my banking career, it’s easy to see now how young and very impressionable I was and while it seemed to others that working in my hometown for the rest of my life was the best gig on earth, I always wanted more. It was also difficult making loans and collecting bad debts from people you knew. I could tell that I was getting calloused. In the spring of 2013, I realized I needed a change. I thought it was a change from banking. In fact, I looked into teaching high school finance and even took a couple of praxis tests to get certified to teach. At that time, I had a 2 year old and having the summers and holidays off sounded pretty darn good. Then I was sent to Graduate School of Banking in Boulder, CO.
During my first session of banking school in 2013 I realized that banking was most definitely where I belonged. While taking a teaching route would have had its benefits, it would not have been the right move for me. Within a couple of months from returning home from Boulder, CO, I started at First National Bank of NWA, a division of First National Bank of Fort Smith as Vice President, Marketing and Lending. I had been connected with my new boss, Rob Husong, through a former employee of his that knew he was looking for someone to head up marketing. Taking this new job came as a shock to a lot of people as I was now commuting over an hour to work in Rogers versus my convenient 3 minute trip to Arvest in Prairie Grove. While it was a leap of faith, it was one of the best career decisions I could have ever made.
My role at FNBNWA expanded my banking skill set to marketing, connected me to so many new people and allowed me to spread my wings. I worked with an incredible team and had the opportunity to become affiliated with new community organizations and non-profits. Most importantly, I was able to see banking through a new lens as most of my coworkers came from a wide array of banking backgrounds. I was a part of re-branding the bank, overhauling bank activities and much more all the while maintaining a loan portfolio.
Some of the FNBNWA ladies at the NWA Business Women’s Conference.
Leading up to the birth of my youngest son, Witten, I was noticing I was wearing out. I blamed it on the long commute, pregnancy, and crazy schedule but after returning from a three month maternity leave I realized it wasn’t just being exhausted. I had that same urge that nagged at me a few years earlier and I knew I wanted more. As fate would have it, Tommy Coughlin, Market President at Grand Savings Bank and former Leadership Benton County classmate, reached out to me about taking over marketing for their rapidly growing bank. I was initially skeptical about making another move. Bankers in Northwest Arkansas can get a bad reputation if they move banks often and this would be my third bank in 16 years. However, after meeting with GSB, I realized this was not only the right move, but exactly what I was needing.
In February of 2017, I joined the Grand Savings Bank team as Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President. This past year has been a whirlwind of projects, new connections, and above all FUN! The punch list of things to do is a mile long but I find each work day exhilarating and I’m excited to see what the future holds. I’m glad I didn’t worry about the public perception of moving banks again. As women in banking, we have to look out for ourselves and what’s best for our families and careers. I’m mad at myself for even wasting time worrying about what others may think.
Part of my GSB Squad at a luncheon earlier this year.
In conclusion, I’m not really sure what it was about banking that drew me in. In fact, I’m often reminded by high school students when I go to speak to various schools about career opportunities how boring banking sounds. My overly enthusiastic presentations about careers in banking are often met with blank stares. I even had two kids sleep through one of my presentations. Perhaps I need to work on that. Regardless, it’s always been my passion.
I look forward to hearing from all of you about how you got your start in banking and would love to talk with you if you want to know how to get started. Everyone has their own, unique path. Mine had a couple of twists and turns that I wouldn’t have ever expected but I know that each bank, challenge, obstacle and win shaped me into who I am today. And thankfully, I am still learning and don’t plan to stop.
Thank you so much for stopping by to check out the Girl Banker! If you had told me a year ago that I would be launching my very own blog, I would have told you there was no way that would ever happen. Who on earth would be interested in anything I have to say? And besides, bankers are boring! But here we are and ready or not, this thing is happening!
My hope is that the Girl Banker will serve as a platform for women in banking, working moms and women in business in general. Heck, I hope my audience extends beyond just women and that men can gain something out of it as well!
As I point out in my About section, I am in no way, shape or form claiming to be an expert or pretend that I have this work, life balance bologna figured out. In fact, I am far from it and struggle with it daily. However, I have found that I am not alone in the struggle and that putting my hopes, fears, dreams, lessons learned and lessons yet to be learned down into words can be very cathartic. I’m excited to host guest bloggers for additional perspective and content and have some incredible women in the lineup.
Furthermore, I feel that women in banking have potential to be extinct one day if we don’t start advocating for young women to enter into the financial industry. Additionally, we need to recognize, mentor and cultivate young women leaders in order to build a bench. I am so thankful for the women who saw potential within me at an early age and built me up throughout my career. As a form of appreciation and to draw attention to the importance of mentoring, I have created a series within the Girl Banker called “Women In Banking: The Influencers” to highlight these incredible ladies or aka girl bankers. More on that to follow.
Please share this blog with all of the women in business that you know and subscribe and follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. I can’t wait to see where this takes us!